Racket Boys: Episode 12
While Nationals are on the minds of our young athletes, we finally learn the truth about what happened at Haenam Seo Middle School all those years ago–and the past looks poised to repeat itself in dangerous ways.
EPISODE 12 RECAP
Hyun-jong consoles his team about their recent draft match loss. Though Haenam Seo’s not the main school, he says that the team for Nationals will be chosen through individual matches so it’s not over for them. Hyun-jong says not to resent anyone since they all tried their best and the boys (minus Hae-kang) glance at Yong-tae.
Mr. Hong is driving Ms. Shin as they hunt down some pulbbang. He broaches the topic of lending out houses and land to people who want to live in the village and Ms. Shin says Big Gran is the one he needs to talk to. He asks if she really doesn’t know. Big Gran only listens to her and if Ms. Shin were to be in favor of the idea, he’s sure Big Gran would okay it.
The next day, the atmosphere at Haenam Seo is uncomfortable. Hyun-jong holds up a cigarette butt and tells the team they shouldn’t smoke no matter how stressed they might be. He has Yong-tae and Hae-kang practice together but it doesn’t improve things much. After practice Yong-tae literally runs away from the other boys, saying that his dad told him to sleep at home from now on.
Coach Chun has a meeting with Eun-ho’s mom, saying that he has a lot of potential. She gets the hint and pulls out an envelope. She tells the coach that she may not have much but she can do anything for her son. Coach Chun half-heartedly pretends not to accept but once he checks the envelope, he’s furious about how little money is there.
While they set the table for dinner, Woo-chan and Yoon-dam let the girls in on a secret: Yong-tae is a stress smoker. Their shocked reactions catch Young-ja’s attention, but they manage to keep the secret under wraps.
Young-ja’s cooked up a giant pot of…something. Soup? Sujebi? She wants to share with the neighbors and Hae-kang volunteers to be the one to go to Big Gran’s house. (To the gratitude of the others since they’re all a little scared of Ms. Shin heh.)
Woo-chan says there’s definitely something wrong if Hae-kang volunteered to go outside in the dark. When Yoon-dam wonders if someone should keep Hae-kang company, Se-yoon volunteers.
Hyun-jong’s been stressing out the past few days over not being able to get a hold of Coach Bae. He’s ecstatic when Coach Bae finally answers his phone, but he gets grumpy all over again when the coach doesn’t give him any advice other than to believe in the kids.
Big Gran notices right away that something’s bothering Hae-kang. She asks what’s wrong and he tells her what’s on his mind. When Big Gran asks if it’s okay for Se-yoon to hear, he assures her that Se-yoon is someone he trusts with his secrets.
He tells her his dream is to be a national athlete, but that he lost an important draft match recently because Yong-tae told the opposing team about his weakness. He’s furious and upset, even though he knows Yong-tae didn’t do it on purpose, and he’s not sure how to move past all this. When Ms. Shin enters with more snacks for the kids, Big Gran gestures at Hae-kang to tell Ms. Shin as well.
She shares her wisdom with them too—Big Gran was a tough and strong woman back in the day. When Big Gran first became mute, she was housebound. It wasn’t related to her being mute, it’s that she was embarrassed to have the villagers know she couldn’t speak anymore. Ms. Shin decided she had to bring her mother back into the world, and her method was to tell everyone Big Gran couldn’t speak.
Big Gran was furious at first, but in the end, she was relieved and thanked her daughter. She had been so afraid of people knowing her secret that it had kept her homebound. After everyone knew, it freed her to be able to venture outside again. It’s important not to break someone’s trust, but some secrets shouldn’t be secret in the first place.
As they walk home, Se-yoon carefully asks what Hae-kang meant when he said she was someone who could know his secrets. Does that mean she’s a good friend? He pauses and says it’s a secret. And that he’ll tell her after he wins at Nationals.
Yong-tae comes out to the Willow Tree of Truth, expecting Hyun-jong–but he gets Hae-kang instead. Hae-kang tells Yong-tae that he’s okay. He can’t thank Yong-tae for telling Eun-ho, but he feels relieved that he doesn’t have to hide his injury anymore.
Hae-kang asks a favor of Yong-tae: forgive Eun-ho. Eun-ho must be having a hard time, and Hae-kang says he would have done the same if he had been in their shoes. That sets off the waterworks, and Yong-tae sobs as he tells Hae-kang to just be angry and not to lie. He knows he’s done something unforgivable to Hae-kang.
Hae-kang says he can’t lie, since they’re at the Willow Tree of Truth. And Yong-tae is more than just a teammate, he’s like a brother to him. Yong-tae sobs even harder and tells Hae-kang not to look at him. He’s embarrassed he’s such a crybaby. How are these two so adorable?
Coach Chun arrives with the Hwasun team and he reiterates that Hyun-jong can’t come to the gym or interfere once training starts for Nationals. They may be borrowing Haenam Seo’s gym, but Hwasun is the main school.
The boys go through their individual draft matches and the good news is that four Haenam players will compete in Nationals. But on the Haenam side there’s only one spot left–and In-sol and Hae-kang will have to face off for the remaining spot.
Usually, if teammates have to play each other, one person steps aside–Yoon-dam, Woo-chan, and Yong-tae ask Hyun-jong to speak to In-sol about giving up the spot. They’re worried there will be awkwardness and bad feelings post-match, and though Hyun-jong understands where they’re coming from, he refuses to interfere.
In-sol has been waiting for them and says he’s going to give it his all and Hae-kang says he better–it’s the only way he’ll have a chance.
The score is tied and it’s a close match. In-sol hits and it’s out. The match point goes to Hae-kang. They both seem shocked. Outside the school, In-sol says he can’t hang out with them because he has to go to hagwon, and his dad is there to pick him up. Hae-kang calls after him, asking him by name to skip his class and hang out with them instead.
In-sol says he can’t, and hurries away. In-sol’s dad is surprised to see him, but when In-sol tells his dad to go, he drives away without any more questions.
Dad’s happy to spend time with In-sol, but when he glances in the rearview mirror, he sees In-sol is crying. In-sol sobs that he wants to go to Nationals too, and asks his dad to do something.
We rewind back to the match, and see that for the decisive point, In-sol had turned his wrist ever-so-slightly, and deliberately hit it out of bounds.
Hyun-jong keeps his promise to Coach Chun and hangs out at home while the boys practice for Nationals. Hae-in suddenly asks if it’s true that the White Wolf is really a bad person. Hyun-jong gets a text and smiles, telling Hae-in that Coach Bae is a good person. It’s a message from the coach; he’d waited until after the match to text Hyun-jong.
He listed all the things he would have said to the boys (all of which Hyun-jong had said to the boys when he was waiting to hear back from Coach Bae), and that it’s his team now too. Coach Bae says he waited to tell Hyun-jong this because the team is Hyun-jong’s now too, and he has faith in him. He has one favor to ask…
Coach Chun has started the training and he tells the players that they have to work and play as a team for Nationals. If someone can’t fit in, they’ll be kicked out. After a menacing pause, he has Yong-tae stand next to Eun-ho.
The two boys are made to run laps while the other boys practice. When they come to a stop in front of Coach Chun, he disparagingly says having a single parent always shows “at a time like this,” and makes them run more laps.
At Mr. Noh’s store, Hyun-jong shows him the text from Coach Bae. The favor the coach had asked was for Hyun-jong to take care of Mr. Noh. Mr. Noh’s touched and Hyun-jong says he’s not going to pay attention to the old rumors because he knows Coach Bae is a good person.
Mr. Noh says of course he is, and he was never the one who beat the players–it was a different coach. That coach always picked on students from poor backgrounds or single-parent families and he got away with it due to his connections at the school and association.
Lately, Mr. Noh’s heard some rumors that are worrying him. The abusive coach has apparently returned to Korea from abroad. That, and a factoid about him having an eyebrow scar, help Hyun-jong put two and two together. He realizes the actual abuser is Coach Chun.
Hyun-jong races back to the school with Coach Chun’s practice conditions now in a much more ominous light. He makes a couple of calls on the way. One call is to Coach Paeng, and the other is to In-sol’s father, both of whom agree to what Hyun-jong’s asked of them (though we don’t hear details).
Yong-tae and Eun-ho are being singled out again, and Coach Chun grabs a mop and snaps off its head. He leans on the mop pole as he tells the group that Kang Tae-sun made it to the national team after he got a good beating, so Yong-tae and Eun-ho are actually lucky.
The other boys look frightened, and Coach Chun tells them that it doesn’t matter if they work hard or not, he doesn’t care about that. He just can’t stomach their poverty. He’s poised to strike the first blow when Hyun-jong rushes in and grabs him.
Coach Chun isn’t fazed in the slightest, and tells Hyun-jong not to act so self-righteous, otherwise he’ll end up a goner like the White Wolf.
We see the full truth, at last. Coach Chun had beaten all the boys, including Kang Tae-sun, so badly that he’d broken his wooden pole. Coach Bae ran in and knocked him down with a flurry of punches.
When the association official and a teacher were called in, they took Coach Chun’s side and told Bae to take the fall–or the team would be disbanded. So Coach Bae had made a sacrifice and stepped away for the sake of his team, leaving only rumors behind. Not a single player spoke out and told the truth.
In the present, Coach Chun eggs Hyun-jong on, saying to punch him if Hyun-jong wants to see the team disbanded. After all, the same people who shielded him back then are still around, and he’s back in Korea. Hyun-jong screams that he doesn’t care about connections before landing an almighty punch… on the wall next to Coach Chun’s head.
Coach Chun laughs and says he must have been scared he’d end up like the White Wolf. Hyun-jong says he was scared but “they’ll” take care of things their way.
Coach Paeng confronts the association official and tells him not to play dumb. How could he even think about hiding things in this day and age?
The teacher is called to a last-minute meeting with In-sol’s dad. He and the principal wonder why, and the principal speculates that the teacher is in line to get a raise. As soon as the teacher is in the room, In-sol’s dad lobs an insult: aren’t you embarrassed to be calling yourself a teacher?
It’s pandemonium in the gym, with Coach Chun swinging the wooden pole around at everyone and screaming he won’t go down alone. He threatens to break everyone’s legs, but at the sound of someone calling his name, he stops mid-swing. The White Wolf is back.
Coach Bae strides in (carrying all those snacks the boys asked for), and Coach Chun falls back in shock at the sight of him. Coach Bae doesn’t even deign to answer Chun when he asks why he’s there–he simply tells him to apologize to the boys and Hyun-jong. Coach Chun sheds a tear, all fight drained out of him.
Ms. Shin and Mr. Hong are on their way back to the village after yet another trip buying more pulbbang for Big Gran, when Ms. Shin answers a call from Grandma. Ms. Shin’s face falls and she seems a little stunned as she asks Mr. Hong to go a little faster because it seems like Big Gran’s about to pass away.
The doctor explains to Ms. Shin that Big Gran is in bad shape and has been for a while. He’s not sure how she’s made it this long, but it’s a testament to her strong will. Young-ja, Grandma, and Grandpa are keeping vigil next to Big Gran. Ms. Shin still seems stunned at what’s happening. Young-ja speaks to Big Gran and tells her her daughter is here now and she should take a look at her face. She takes Ms. Shin’s hand and Big Gran’s hand and places them together. After a few seconds, Big Gran opens her eyes and shocks everyone by speaking.
She asks Ms. Shin if she’s eaten yet. Big Gran continues that she should make sure to eat, and her last words are, “I’m sorry.”
The funeral is underway, and Hyun-jong arrives at Big Gran’s with all the kids. The kids are confused by the festive atmosphere. Why are the adults are feasting, drinking, and playing cards when Big Gran’s just passed away?
Hae-kang watches his mom clearing tables and bringing drinks and food to various mourners for a long beat, and then he asks his dad if she cried when her mom died. Hyun-jong doesn’t answer right away, but Han-sol says she must have. Young-ja may be tough, but it was her mom.
Yong-tae and all the kids agree that the funeral seems like a party, and Hyun-jong tells them it’s different for the real family. Ms. Shin comes out of the house looking lost, and her siblings arrive then, sobbing and hugging her.
The family gather in front of Big Gran’s funeral altar. Ms. Shin thanks Grandma for calling the family and preparing the funeral, but when Grandma begins to speak, one of the Shin sisters cuts her off. She asks what the plan is and Ms. Shin says nothing will change, she’ll just continue farming and living her life. But the siblings are talking about Big Gran’s assets.
The other Shin siblings have already discussed it, and they think it’s best to sell off all the houses and land Big Gran owned. Ms. Shin is affronted, asking how they can even talk money when they’re still in mourning, but her oppa says she’ll get a cut (which clearly isn’t what she cares about).
Mr. Hong says they should be ashamed, and Grandma says she’s glad Big Gran can’t hear them talk. She grasps Ms. Shin’s hand and says let’s go thank “them,” and that they told her to fetch them if this topic came up.
“They” are the ones who tended to Big Gran, were called the family, and prepared all the food: it’s the city couple. They ask if she’s eaten yet and the city wife says Ms. Shin must take care of herself and that she hates to see Ms. Shin in pain. Back in front of the funeral altar, the city wife pulls out a sheet of paper and she reads it over the objections of the other Shin siblings.
“I worked very hard every single day of my life. And now, people call me right. I own houses, land, and a mountain. And I lost my health and my speech. Now, my life is fading too. This is my last thought. I leave all of my houses, land, and mountain to the chief mourner, my youngest daughter. And the rest of my children can take the money from the funeral. You ungrateful bastards.
The other family members are up in arms now, asking what right the city couple has to interfere in family business. The lights blink eerily. One of the sisters says that mom’s gone anyway, what can she do to them now? They get another fright when Big Gran’s funeral portrait crashes down.
Young-ja and Hae-in lead the way back home, and Hae-kang asks his dad about the day Young-ja won gold at the Asian Games. Hyun-jong is surprised to learn that she’d shared with Hae-kang that the day was her worst and best day as an athlete. Hae-in stops and tells Young-ja that her shoes are mismatched, and Young-ja seems to be in a daze.
Coach Paeng drives Young-ja away from the airport, leaving behind big crowds of fans. He wonders why Hyun-jong didn’t come out to meet her and asks what her plans are now. Young-ja says she’s heading home since her entire family’s gathered together. A call comes in from her sister.
Gold medal in hand, Young-ja walks down the halls, not of her home, but a funeral hall instead. Young-ja stares at her mom’s photo on the funeral altar. Her eyes are dry as she asks what’s going on, and her family says Mom suddenly passed after being sick. Young-ja cries out that they should have told her as soon as they knew. She throws her medal to the ground saying her mother’s more important than a medal.
Young-ja wants to know what her mother said, since she must have said something. Hyun-jong places a hand on her shoulder and says Mom told them not to tell Young-ja she was sick, as she didn’t want to distract Young-ja from the game.
She’s dumbfounded and angry, but Hyun-jong lets her know that Mom still waited for her. And she had not wanted Young-ja to cry, because she wouldn’t be there to wipe away her tears. Young-ja looks pained, but she manages to hold back her tears.
Back in the present, Young-ja is teary-eyed and Hyun-jong places a hand on her shoulder. He tells her it’s okay to cry now; there are so many people to wipe away her tears. Young-ja holds out her arms and she lets herself cry at last, as all the kids go in for a group hug.
After practice, Se-yoon texts her mom asking her to come to Nationals. Hyun-jong also pulls up in a fancy new van which was a present from Big Gran to replace their old junker.
At home, Hae-kang has a request for Young-ja: he wants to have her sujebi. Aw, that’s the sujebi his grandma always made for Young-ja.
The city couple are at home too, with the city husband printing out some photos for Grandma and Grandpa. The city wife comes out of the bathroom staring at something in her hands–a positive pregnancy test. They hug, laugh, and cry.
Mr. Hong waits for Ms. Shin and gives her the pulbbang they bought that night. He’s amazed to see that she seems in fine spirits. Ms. Shin says there’s no use in crying, as her mom would probably have given her a slap on the back and nagged her if she did. After he goes, she notices he has left shoes behind at her house so it looks like there are lots of people living there.
Once alone, she eats and tears up. When Ms. Shin opens the fridge, she notices container after container full of dongchimi. Ms. Shin finally breaks down crying and calls out to her mom, asking how she could do this. “Why not ‘thank you, I love you.’ Why apologize? What were you sorry about?” She tells her mom to visit her in her dreams. There was so much she didn’t get to tell her. “I love you so much.”
The city wife is waiting for Ms. Shin just outside her house. She’s holding a banchan container and tells Ms. Shin they’d visited yesterday and found Big Gran unwell. The will was from when they’d changed the lightbulb for her.
Ms. Shin nods and wonders about the “ungrateful bastards” bit, as that doesn’t sound like her mom at all, and the city wife admits it was all her, heh. She shares that her name is Shin Pil-ja and and asks what Ms. Shin’s name is. Ms. Shin is actually shocked someone asked lol, and it takes her a beat before telling Pil-ja her name is Shin Song-hee.
Ms. Shin awkwardly starts to thank her, but Pil-ja changes the subject and asks if she can just call her unni. They share a little moment yelling at a littering hiker. Ms. Shin invites Pil-ja in to have lunch, and she gives her a little smile.
It’s late at night and Yong-tae sneaks out of the house after checking that the other boys are asleep.
He crouches outside saying he’s going to get caught at this rate. The hyungs bum-rush him, admonishing him over his smoking habit. Yong-tae’s confused, and he pulls his cellphone out and finishes up his call with Ah-young, the badminton goddess of Yurim High. Heh, Woo-chan’s jealous, but Yong-tae is convinced she’s trying to torture him by constantly calling him and asking him to hang out. Hae-kang is puzzled: who was actually smoking at the gym? Whoever it was, it must have been a badminton player, because only they’re the only ones who know about the gym’s back door.
At Haenam Seo, someone smokes in the locker room. He gets up and exits, but not before turning around to look back.
So much happened that this feels like three episodes smushed into one. I really did worry that there was truth to the rumors about Coach Bae, not because of his actions, but because of how squirrelly the old badminton team was about divulging even the slightest detail about what had happened back then. Knowing what actually occurred, it makes all the more sense that no one was willing to talk, guilt can be a bigger motivation than fear. I think the former players are being too hard on themselves–they were all teenagers back then. Blame lies squarely with Coach Chun and the people who covered for him. He was painted with broad strokes, but his being so awful made his comeuppance all the more gratifying to watch. It wasn’t just seeing him cowering in fear at the sight of Coach Bae that was satisfying, but seeing the people who helped cover for Coach Chun finally get their just desserts was that bit of icing on top.
We didn’t see as much of the sporting side of things this episode, but the little moments we had made me appreciate the writing’s emphasis on sportsmanship and sacrifice. Sure there are rivalries, but there’s no bitterness or meanness there and when Coach Chun was threatening the boys, I didn’t miss the way Hae-kang was holding onto Eun-ho. The friendships are a big part of why I enjoy the show so much, and Hae-kang resolved his issue with Yong-tae in a way that was so kind yet honest. He didn’t gloss over the fact that he was upset, but he didn’t hold Yong-tae’s mistake against him. It would have been enough to say that he had forgiven Yong-tae, but reassuring Yong-tae that he would have done the same as both Yong-tae and Eun-ho is proof enough that Hae-kang has an emotional intelligence that more than makes up for his lack of academic chops.
There’s just so much love and respect in Racket Boys, it makes my heart feel full. Each episode I watch, there are so many sweet details that I wish I could just write up a big list. I’ll spare everyone from having to read a giant list of all the many, many sweet details in this episode, but I will say that a few things I particularly enjoyed were Hyun-jong wearing his birthday gift from the boys almost everywhere he went, and the fact that Hae-kang called In-sol by name instead of the usual “Nerd” after they’d had their draft match against each other. From the way both boys looked shocked after the match, I can’t help but wonder if Hae-kang also realized that In-sol had deliberately hit the birdie out of bounds.
Big Gran’s passing and the funeral were the toughest parts of the episode to watch for me–it felt much too personal and reminded me of my grandmother and mother’s funerals. It’s a big deal for someone to pass away alone. Having Big Gran pass while surrounded by people who cared for her was beautiful from a narrative perspective. At Korean funerals, mourners typically leave gifts of cash in a sign of their condolences, so leaving her three older children the equivalent of crumbs was a nice touch. A hint of pettiness, but also not writing them off completely.
Past grief resurfaced in another way for Young-ja, and it’s nice to finally see more of how Young-ja ticks, as well as her history. She may not wear her heart on her sleeve, but when she cares, she’s willing to rush over and help. And oof, seeing Young-ja dealing with so much joy and so much grief on the same day… I had always figured that Young-ja’s personality was naturally on the no-nonsense side, but seeing the backstory as to why Young-ja holds back her tears was so sad and so touching.
We finally have a name for one half of the city couple! And now that the city wife has a name, can we get the city husband’s name too? They’ve been through so much hardship and it’s clear that Haenam has become a refuge for them and a true home. You could see it in how they kept finding reasons to delay their departure in the last episode, and now, their house actually looks like a home. There’s furniture, art on the walls, and they’ve started to settle and put down roots. It’s been a long journey, but I’m happy to see they have some more good news on the way. Mr. Hong has been trying to get more people to settle in the village for a long time, and with the village population set to grow by one, I’d bet the city couple’s child will be much-loved and eagerly welcomed by everyone.